VA. — There’s very little that’s typical about Rich Abernathy, president
of Air Cool & Heating Systems, a seven-person firm based in Alexandria,
Va. He’s an explorer, always looking for new ways to tackle a challenge.
“I need to be aware of new and emerging technology solutions.
Especially now, with energy concerns
riding high on my customer’s list of concerns,” said Abernathy. In the
past year or so, they’ve seen a dramatic shift away from standard HVAC
systems. His customers want solar heat and photovoltaic, geothermal,
radiant heat and high efficiency ductless systems.
“To stay sharp, we do it all,” he said.
“One of the things I encourage — almost
demand — of my customers is that they collect a year’s worth of energy
and fuel receipts before we do our work,” added Abernathy. “And because
every system we install will substantially reduce their energy
consumption, I want them to see the impact of it. There are often huge
comfort advantages, but energy savings are usually in the lead.”
A year ago, Abernathy received a call
from Sharon McDougal. A real estate agent, she and her husband live in a
charming 2,000-sq. ft., two bedroom, two bath brick and stone, Cape Cod
style “mini-Tudor” built in 1933, long before central systems and duct
runs were in vogue.
Gas-guzzler no more
Despite its modest size, the
uncomfortable home was a gas-guzzler, and electric bills were increasing
steadily. A 10-year-old gas-fired boiler heated cast iron
radiators in all levels of the home except for the partially finished
“And even though our home isn’t large,
our energy bills were really getting out of hand,” said McDougal. “We’ve
lived in the home for 10 years with window units providing the only a/c,
and only in parts of the home,” she said. “It was uncomfortable,
inefficient and noisy. We knew we had to do something about it when the
windowsills began to rot and leak from dripping condensate.
“In fact, I’ve lost sales in this area
because of the same problem with other homes,” she continued. “We’d been
told over and over that we couldn’t have central air installed in the
house because there was no place to run the ductwork. For years, we
treated that comment like the end of the story. But I learned through a
colleague about ductless systems, which opened the door to all sorts of
possibilities. A realtor friend referred me to Abernathy’s company.”
Initially, McDougal and her husband made
the decision to have a high efficiency ductless system installed to
provide comfort for the home’s second floor and main living areas.
During his first visit to the home, Abernathy saw many limitations in
the home’s design, chiefly, small spaces and knee walls following roof
“Ductless systems are made for
applications like theirs,” he said.
Since the McDougals expressed interest
in having a more efficient form of heat for the upstairs and main living
areas of the home, plus air conditioning, Abernathy selected heat pumps
from among several different models of Fujitsu’s wall-mounted Halcyon
R-410a inverter heat pump line, opting for units with efficiency ratings
of up to 21 SEER and 10.0 HSPF. The lineup now includes 62 systems with
capacity ranges of 9,000 to 42,000 Btuh.
For the upper bedroom — a space McDougal
says was “unfit for living” during the warmer months — Abernathy
installed a 9,000 Btuh unit. He selected an 18,000 Btuh dual-zone system
to serve the master bedroom and living room. And in the kitchen, a
12,000 Btuh unit.
“The gas boiler couldn’t touch that sort
of efficiency, and these systems are rated for optimal efficiency down
to an ambient temperature of 0°F,” said Abernathy. “Winter temperatures
in Arlington are above that, so there was little debate about the value
of this decision for the McDougals. “It’s been a complete
transformation,” said McDougal. “We now have precise control of the
home’s comfort and enjoy areas that we avoided for so long — chiefly,
the upper bedroom and basement. The home feels luxurious.
And there’s no embarrassment when
inviting guests. The McDougals were so happy that they had
Abernathy install the heat pumps in the rest of the house. “The
oppressive heat was gone, and the humidity that we had to tolerate for
years went with it,” she said. “Another benefit is the [plasma IAQ] air
filtration that the systems offer. The air inside feels and smells
cleaner. We quickly learned that we needed more of a good thing, so we
asked Rich to return to complete the job.”
“I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear
back from them so soon,” said Abernathy “In fact, I thought I might get
a call when I saw how the home had been heated and cooled for years. The
new units made a huge difference in the main areas of the home.”During
their second installation at the McDougal’s home, Abernathy’s crew
installed two more 12,000 Btuh heat pump systems for the sunroom and
“We never imagined comfort like this in
the home, or the energy savings we’re seeing” said McDougal. “The most
amazing change was in the basement where we had high humidity. That’s
gone now, and the air is so much nicer there. Last winter, we could
enjoy that space for the first time. We now wish we’d have done this
Just as Abernathy had requested,
McDougal found previous invoices from Washington Gas and Virginia
Electric. They now save 20% to 21% on their electric bill and more
than 50% on the gas bill.
“Our savings have been terrific, even
now with the entire home either cooled or heated. Before, we just tried
to ignore the discomfort,” said McDougal. “Professionally, it’s
made a difference for me, too,” she concluded. “Now, when I’m
showing older homes like ours, I don’t have to make excuses about
insufficient heating or cooling. Ductless systems are so well
suited to homes like the one we live in.”